The situation went from grim to worse. I had begun to question my decision to work at home with my, at the time, three young daughters. Here is a sample ‘day-in-the-life’ experience, for me, as a ‘home office mom’ as a Montessori daycare momtrepeneur.
I was in the middle of changing my toddler’s stinky diaper, and the baby starts crying, demanding to be fed. At the same time, I am watching my 3 year old play with a puzzle seemingly getting more and more frustrated because she can’t fit the piece in properly. She starts yelling “MOOOOOMMMYYY HELPPPPP”. The phone rings. I suddenly look at the time, and realize that I am expecting a business call from a parent. Everything and everyone begins to fall to pieces in what seems like an instant. I quickly wrap up the diaper, scoop the baby up for feeding, grab the bottle, assist the 3-year old with the puzzle on the way by, and scramble to grab the phone. I put the phone between shoulder and ear, and say a frazzled ‘Hello’, only to drop the phone on the floor. There is commotion on the other end, and I apologize, yet again, for the chaos. All the while, I am balancing the phone on my shoulder, and feeding the baby her bottle in my arms. All of a sudden, it is silent. I speak a little bit of intelligence to the parent on the other end, when the bottle falls from my baby’s grasp, and she begins crying again. The other children follow the ‘crying chain’, and the domino effect begins all over again. The thought crosses my mind, to run into my bedroom closet, and chat with my parent in that small, dark, yet quiet place. Or, what about creating an office in my small, but quiet van? But, I can’t leave the children alone! A day in the life of a ‘home office mom’. I ask the parent if I can call her back when things calm down, and she seems a little discouraged about my dismissal of her questions. The next time, I will be better prepared. But how? By experience and research into how other moms work in their home with young children, I have come up with a few strategies that you, the home office mom, may find helpful.
#1 Child-proof your home. Remove any objects or pieces of furniture that may be unsafe for your children to play with or around. Put safety cushion material around the outside edges of your shelves, coffee table, et cetera, so that children can move around them with ease, without injuring themselves or falling over them. Remove all breakables (ie. glass vase) from within arm’s reach of your children. Provide safety gates where necessary (ie. top of staircase). Put developmentally-appropriate and safe toys and play-based learning activities on child-sized shelving for easy access by children. Remove any poisonous plants, or toxins, and use safety-latches or locked cabinets when necessary for cleaners, et cetera. That way, if you get busy, you can rest assured that the children are safe.
#2 Make a daily schedule. Involve your children by using picture symbols to highlight each time frame of your daily routine. For example, eight o’clock can be pictured as breakfast time with mommy, and cuddles after. And, nine o’clock can be pictured as play-time while mommy works. The schedule should follow a time-line, and a Velcro daily calendar with pictures would work well. That way, if there is any fluctuation in the schedule, all of the priorities of the day are taken care of, at a later time frame.
#3 Prioritize. Each morning, before the children wake up, take a look at your day planner. Put these items first on your daily calendar and schedule. These are priorities are items that must be done at some point of the day. Focus on only the priorities, and really try to accomplish these as your goals of the day first, so that you do not get stressed in trying to accomplish too many things in one day. Don’t sweat it if the smaller, less important tasks don’t get done. Have a bin labeled ‘To Do Later’, so that you can put any non-priority tasks in it for another day. There is always tomorrow.
#4 Designate a separate ‘Mommy Work Space’ in your home and set rules for the space. Show your children where you will be working, and show them where their ‘work space’ is located. Tell them that just like mommy has her own space to do her hard work, they do too. Designate a small office space in your home for your work, but make sure that it is in a spot where you can see the children, and hear them, easily. An open-concept (like a rec room space) would work best. Put their quiet activities (ie. puzzles, building blocks, drawing area) within access to them at all times. There must be a wide variety of learning materials and quiet activities, as well a time-consuming craft activities, in their space. Be sure to have new bins of activities and toys to pull out of storage to keep your children interested. Put up a ‘STOP’ sign on your workspace, when you are doing an important business task (ie. phone call), as a sign that the children must not come into your space or be noisy in the space. Make sure that you only designate one part of your home as ‘Mommy Office’, and ‘Child Office’. If you take over the whole home as work and play space, you will quickly get discouraged and distracted by all of the cleaning chores to be done. Try to concentrate on only keeping your office space clean and organized, during home office work hours. Turn your back on laundry and other household chores during work hours, and, schedule a ‘tidy-up time’ (using the help of the children) on your daily calendar. That way, you are not constantly cleaning up after the children, and neglecting important office work.
#5 Set aside time for fun. There should be a clearly marked ‘fun-time with mommy’ on your daily calendar. This is where you can forget about ‘perfection’, and take a fun and stress-free, highly deserved break from business. Allow the children to come up with a fun activity to do at this time, where they know they will have ‘fun-loving’ mommy all to themselves!
#6 Plan meals in advance. I used to do ‘Once-a-month Cooking’ with other moms, in order to have healthy, home-cooked meals lined up a month in advance in my freezer. You can also opt for once-a-week cooking to prepare and freeze in advance. This works well if you are juggling work and family commitments during the day. You can also consider on-line grocery shopping with recipe ingredients recorded in advance. This saves lots of time during your day. Try to have the main course made ahead (to pop in the oven or crockpot), so that your children can help with some of the meal preparation at the end of the work day (i.e.side dishes) . You must be sure to have a defined start and end time for your work day. I would think that a typical nine to five work day would suffice. And, be sure to shut the office door at the end of the day which marks your meal time preparation with your children. Lastly, make meal times during the day focused on the children. Your breakfast and lunch breaks, for example, should be a good length on your daily schedule, and focused on family discussion.
#7 Schedule a Nap-Time and/or Quiet Time on your calendar and do the most work in this quiet, time period. Even if your oldest child does not nap, make time for them to have quiet activities and books. Your children need to know that their bodies need rest time for optimal health. This is the time for you to get the most work done, since there should be minimal distractions and noise.
#8 Be flexible with your calendar. It is a good idea to get up earlier than the children, and prioritize your goals for the day to post on your calendar. You could also do this at night, once the children are tucked into bed. This is a quiet time for you to ‘regroup’ and prepare yourself for the day ahead. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and expect perfection. A perfect work day will rarely ever happen with children in the home, and your plans may be thrown out the window, when, for example, a scraped knee takes precedence. It is important to be flexible. Plan ahead, but, when things don’t go as planned, don’t ‘beat yourself up’. Keep calm, and, eventually, the work will get done. Most clients will understand when a ‘child emergency’ arises unexpectedly, and plans need to be changed.
#9 Do not feel guilty for not constantly entertaining your child. Children, like adults, need their own space and their own time for personal interests. Do not feel guilty for leaving your child to watch her favourite T.V. show, while you make an important phone call. This is the reason that you set aside time for mommy fun-time during the day. If you are constantly entertaining your child, the child will be dependent on your ideas for fun, and will not be able to choose her own independent and personal interest tasks. Also, by allowing your child the freedom to explore, you are allowing for imaginative play, and for her to develop her own personal interests.
#10 Head outside! When you are at your wit’s end, whisking the children outdoors is often the best therapy for all of you. The outdoors provides fresh air, and emotional well-being. It also allows you to see and talk to other adults, if you live in town, or take a well-deserved nature walk if you live in the country. You may also decide to go on a field trip, if you just need a getaway from the walls of your home. A change of scenery will often allow you to refresh your mind, and focus on what is important, and spending quality time with your children without indoor distractions and work to be done.
So, being a full-time parent and a full-time home office mom can be a rather daunting task. Not one day will turn out perfectly well, and your sanity may be lost in the process. But, as long as you keep a clear head, and devise a plan using practical strategies (like the ones above), it can be done! If you have the rewarding, yet difficult job of ‘home office mom’, you may be struggling emotionally and physically. There is help! Find a support group, use others’ strategies proven to work, and as a Call-to-Action, you may even want to consider child-care swaps with other home-office moms in the area???!!!
The main thing to remember is to KEEP CALM and be the best HOME OFFICE MOM!
Lana is mom to four daughters, and recently joined the Momstown team! She is passionate about helping children and families, and holds a diploma in child development. She has worked in schools, Montessori, daycares, and family resource programs all of her adult life, and is a published author of a book which aims to help those families struggling with childhood anxiety.